Holiday chills and thrills

Title: Surrender, New York by Caleb CarrPublisher: Random House 608 pp August 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, 5+ stars

Author:

Caleb Carr is a military historian and best selling author of The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, The Lessons of Terror, The Italian Secretary, and The Legend of Broken. He has taught military history at Bard College, and worked extensively in film, television, and the theater. His military and political writings have appeared in numerous magazines and periodicals, among them The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Much of Carr’s fiction deals with violence perpetrated by people whose behavior has its origins in childhood abuse. He looks for underlying causes. These stories are rooted Carr’s family history. And not for the faint of heart.  Carr lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, spending summers at his family’s home in Cherry Plain. He know lives on Misery Mountain, in Cherry Plain; currently sharing his home with a Siberian cat, Masha (very relevant to Surrender, New York).

“I wanted nothing less than to be a fiction writer when I was a kid”—Caleb Carr 

Publications

The Alienist (1994)(won 1995 Anthony Award for Best First Novel; 1896 serial killer in NYC)

The Angel of Darkness (1997) (sequel with female serial killer)

Surrender, New York (2016) (modern application of Dr Kreizler’s principles/theories)

Casing the Promised Land (1980)

America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security from 1912 to Star Wars co-written with James Chace (1989)

The Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China (1992)

Killing Time (2000)

The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again (2002)

The Italian Secretary (2005) (an authorized Sherlock Holmes mystery)

The Legend of Broken (2012) (speculative European historical fiction of the Dark Ages)

Anthologies

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2006). “Some Analytical Genius, No Doubt”. The Ghosts in Baker Street: New Tales of Sherlock Holmes. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) & Chace, James (Essay contributor) (2006). “The United States, The U.N., and Korea”. The Cold War: A Military History. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2003). “William Pitt the Elder and the Avoidance of the American Revolution”. What Ifs? of American History, Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2001). “Poland 1939”. No End Save Victory: Perspectives on World War II.

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2001). “VE Day–November 11, 1944 The Unleashing of Patton and Montgomery”. What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (1999). “Napolean Wins at Waterloo”. What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Story line:
I loved this book, first read in August during my travel season and then recommended to many people. As I read through my annual book list, it was amongst the most memorable. So I must write about it to recommend it further. Surrender, New York is an up state New York town. It isn’t a return to the Alienist but there are links and threads to the past. This is a psychological thriller on par with two of my favourite authors John Connolly and Ian Rankin. This novel features the detective team of Dr Trajan Jones, profiler, and Dr Michael Li, trace evidence, forensic specialist. It has intricate, detailed, multi-layered plots which give an emotional wallop throughout. Its extremely well researched both historical and present reality. It’s a disturbing tale of teen suicide/murder of throwaway children, corrupt government, conspiracy and power. There’s a lot of evil and we see it here. Trace and Li are unusual heroes, as is the magical big cat, hardly a pet, it definitely a character.

It’s not a comfortable read, but it is riveting, compelling, inventive and amazing. Don’t miss it. 

Quotes: opening paragraph 

The case did not so much burst upon as creep over Burgoyne County, New York, just as the sickness that underlay it only took root in the region slowly, insidiously, and long before the first body was found. My own initial indication that at least one crime of an unusual and quite probably violent nature had been committed came in the form of a visit from Deputy Sheriff Pete Steinbrecher, in early July of that summer. I was then living, as I had been for about five years, at Shiloh, a dairy farm belonging to my spinster great-aunt, Miss Clarissa Jones. Shiloh is centered on a large Italianate farmhouse that is the sole residence in Death’s Head Hollow, one of a half-dozen valleys that lead down from the high ground of the northern Taconic Mountains into the small town of Surrender.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

Available from Rochester Public Library (two copies).

Give the Gift of Reading


As always I’m asked for my annual book list. What I read, what I liked, what I’d recommend. The hardest is to take the list and get the top ten. I just tried that, and have 50 books out of my yearly reads. Which even if I try for 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction, is still 30 more than you want to see. And even then I have 14 fiction with one or two stars as in must reads (34 great reads of 69 fiction books). ALL of these would make great Christmas gifts! I will publish my complete book list for 2016 in a couple of weeks.

Books 2016. Fiction

*Lauren Belfer And After the Fire

*Vanora Bennett Midnight in St Petersburg

*Christopher Buckley The Relic Master

*Caleb Carr Surrender, New York

**John Connolly A Song of Shadows, A Time of Torment

*Lindsay Faye Jane Steele

*Charles Finch The Inheritance

*Craig Johnson The Highwayman, An Obvious Fact

**Laurie King Marriage of Mary Russell, Murder of Mary Russell

Echoes of Sherlock Holmes

*Elizabeth Strout My Name is Lucy Barton

*Will Thomas Hell Bay

E.S. Thomson Beloved Poison

*Charles Todd No Shred of Evidence, The Shattered Tree

*Brad Watson Miss Jane

Science Fiction

**Patricia Briggs Shifting Shadows, Fire Touched

Genevieve Cogman The Invisible Library

YA

*Alan Bradley Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewd

NonFiction

*Stefan Bollman Women who Read are Dangerous

Hayley Campbell The Art of Neil Gaiman

*David Denby Lit Up

**Neil Gaiman The View from the Cheap Seats

Joshua Hammer The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbukt

*Bernd Heinrich One Bird at a Time

** Gabriel Hemery, Sarah Simblet The New Sylvia 

*Adam Hochschild Spain in our Hearts

**Clive James Latest Readings, Play All

** Paul Kalanithi When Breath Becomes Air

Hope Jahren Lab Girl

Nathaniel Philbrick Valient Ambition

*Andrea Wulf Alexander Humboldt: Invention of Nature

You don’t know Jack…

Title: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert MaselloPublisher: 47 North 477 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, science fiction, fantasy

4 stars

Author:  Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, TV writer, and a bestselling author. A recent thriller, The Einstein Prophecy was # 1 in the Kindle store. Previous books include Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet and the Romanov Cross. He has authored two popular studies of the Occult as well as books on writing. TV credits include “Charmed,” “Sliders,” Early Edition,” and “Poltergeist: the Legacy.” He studied writing at Princeton University under Robert Stone and Geoffrey Wolff. This is my first exposure to him, chosen from netgalley for my obsession with all things literary Scotland.

Story line:  This book has two alternating storylines: in the present storyline are we introduced to Rafael (Rafe) Salazar, an environmental science field officer, who discovers an old green steamer trunk with a flask and a journal that was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, so his past alternates with the present. In August 1888, as the stage play of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was taking London by storm, Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most notorious serial killer in history, struck for the first time. In reality RLS briefly was considered a suspect.

Masello weaves the different threads of action, gothic horror, history, science and science fiction together in a story that grabs your attention from the very beginning. It’s more pulp fiction than I normally read, but it’s a great action ‘film’. I enjoyed the RLS journal entries more than the present day story which included methheads, rednecks, violence and clueless male egos. Perhaps it was also that the women are superficial. Having read several biographies of Fanny Stevenson, Maesello doesn’t portray her well either. But, suspend reality for a day and enjoy the suspense. I suspect I will read more of him, especially with travel season ahead.

Read on:

If you are a fan of Dan Brown, Lee Child, Douglas Preston

Quotes:

Opening paragraph: 25th of November, 1894 From: Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima House, Samoa To: W.E. Henley, 18 Maybury Road, Old Woking, Surrey, England Dear Henley—What I must tell you now, I tell you with dread. It has happened again. What we thought—what we prayed—we had left behind us in the back alleys and darkened doorways of Whitechapel has, I fear, awakened from its awful slumber. It has struck again, right here, in what I had foolishly thought might be Paradise. And I have been the unwitting agent of its malevolence.

Ever since he was a boy, Rafe had talked to animals; his little sister, Lucy, after seeing the movie of the same name, had called him Dr. Doolittle.
“Tell Stoker he doesn’t need to send any more emissaries. I’m sane as the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

In his hands, he held the journal, but with a kind of reverence now, that he had not initially felt. He hadn’t known at first whose initials they were—RLS—nor had he known who Louis, or Fanny, was. But then he’d read and deciphered more of the text, put it all together, and discovered that the author of the book was none other than Robert Louis Stevenson. The man whose books, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, he’d devoured as a boy.

Reading the book was slow-going—the ink had faded almost to the point of disappearing here and there, and he had to turn the pages with great care or they would shred and fall away from the binding. Stevenson’s handwriting was very peculiar, too—angular and slanted, with a lot of what looked like hasty pen marks, swipes and blottings. Rafe had read all the entries from the Belvedere clinic in Switzerland and he had been especially moved by the author’s attempts to protect the wolf he called Lord Grey from the cruelties of Yannick. On that score, he felt a real allegiance with Stevenson.

What I did not feel, and this was what astonished me even then, even in what should have been an utterly terrifying moment, was fear. I felt instead a burst of exhilaration, coupled with a sensation of freedom and power. I was not the scribbler Robert Louis Stevenson—I was the wolf Lord Grey.

“English gardens,” she said. “All weeds and no flowers.”

What he held in his hands—the seared covers and a handful of dust—was all he had to show for the last words of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Intriguing historical series!

Title: Iron Water (A Victorian Police Procedural) by Chris NicksonPublisher: Severn House 224pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, English mystery     4.5+ stars

Author: Chris Nickson (b 1954) is a British novelist, music journalist, and biographer who lived in the United States for 30 years before returning home. As a music journalist, he specialized in world and roots music, writing a regular column for Global Rhythm magazine. He wrote The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to World Music. He has written biographies of celebrities including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Reeve and the late singer-songwriter John Martyn, Solid Air (ebook in June 2011). His first novel, The Broken Token (2010), was set in Leeds in 1731 followed by Cold Cruel Winter, then The Constant Lovers, The Cruel Fear, At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies: these are The Richard Nottingham novels. Then there are the Laura Benton series which take place in Seattle, the Detective Harper late Victorian (1890s) series also in Leeds, and other one-off novels and non-fiction. The audiobook of The Broken Token was named as one of the Audiobooks of the Year for 2012 by The Independent on Sunday.

Story line: I was very excited to discover a new author! This book looked interesting and is a genre I enjoy, but after the first 25 pages I settled in for a wonderful read. And then I discovered this is actually the fourth in a series, which I now must read in order. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies and Skin Like silver. All of his books have been added to my list. I love discovering a new (to me) author and enjoy sharing. Thanks to Netgalley for the chance to read Nickson. What a pleasure to enjoy an intricate plot, wonderful detailed characters, accurate interesting historical detail for an enjoyable afternoon read. These days stories often set your teeth on edge, you encounter graphic sex or violence when you’re not expecting it, editing leaves something to be desired, or…. this didn’t disappoint on any level.

We catch up with Detective Tom Harper witnessing a demonstration of a new naval weapon, the torpedo, in Waterloo Lake (aka Iron Water). Unfortunately a body is dislodged and then dredging operations unearth a women’s leg in the River Aire. Every era and town seems to have a violent criminal underworld. His wife Annabelle is also a suffragist and we see many societal changes including class structure, women’s issues, children. Leeds is a grim dirty industrial city (newly designated) and it’s obvious I have to read his other historical novels of this city. What a pleasure to add him to my winter reading. I eagerly await the next installment 2017, after I finish the rest of the series!

Www.chrisnickson.co.uk

Read on:

Late Victorian detectives: Canadian Det Murdoch (Maureen Jennings), Mary Russell (Laurie King)

Quotes:

But until Mary was born he hadn’t known how loudly his heart could sing. 

Detective Sergeant Ash he was now, promoted the year before and worth his weight in diamonds. He was a natural detective, a man who made connections well, who could think on his feet. Harper had pushed for him to be given his stripes; he deserved them.

He’d been a copper for fourteen years and never had a corpse emerge from the water before. Now there were two in a single morning.

‘Detective Inspector Harper, Leeds City Police.’ He still wasn’t used to the new name of the force.

The file on Archer was almost six inches thick, years of papers piled one on top of the other. The rumour was that he’d committed his first murder when he was just ten; a shopkeeper who clipped him round the ear when he came in and demanded money. No one had ever appeared in court for the death. He’d been arrested and questioned more often than Harper had enjoyed hot dinners.

‘You work out what the truth is,’ Harper told him. ‘That’s what the job is all about.’

‘Ready?’ Harper asked. ‘As I’ll ever be, sir,’ Ash answered. ‘I made out my will a few months ago.’

The sergeant smiled under his moustache. ‘I doubt Charlie Gilmore’s come within shouting distance of the truth since he learned how to talk. But there might have been a few places where he wasn’t lying too much.’

Six dead now. He couldn’t remember another case with so many murdered. And now? There was still one man out there. Morley’s killer. The last man standing. And he didn’t know who that might be.


Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Thank you!

It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it!

It’s a new book….If you haven’t read it

I reviewed this book three years ago, but have since had several people ask me about it. Thought I would share again. Good for Christmas gifts, travel planning, winter armchair reading as we dream of green gardens again.

Hermit in the Garden From Imperil Rome to ornamental gnome by Gordon Campbell

Oxford University Press (October 2012)

Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)

This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France around the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.

18th century British grand garden design brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrimages of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility ‘pretending to be peasants”. The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Thoreau and Emerson. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.

I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle.  Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp).  Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county) Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)

Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman, Tom Stoppard Arcadia, Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

4.5 stars

A perfect holiday read

Title: The Inheritance by Charles FinchPublisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical mystery, series, Charles Lenox, fiction, 

4.5+ stars

Author: Charles Finch is the author of the bestselling Charles Lenox mystery series, The Inheritance being the 10th installment. The Last Enchantments (2014) was his first stand alone novel, about a group of students at Oxford. He is a book critic for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Recently he was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

Story line: This is really a not to be missed series. Start at the beginning! Charles Lenox is an eminent Victorian detective with a penchant for solving unusual cases. As a boy at Harrow (Eton’s rival, more sophisticated and smarter) he was never able to determine the MB, mystery benefactor, of another student Gerald Leigh. Thirty years later Leigh contacts Lenox over another anonymous legacy, but then goes missing. Through a series of flashbacks with current events, rich period detail peels away layers of intrigue. There are several mysteries involving our usual well loved characters, which take place over 6 months of 1877, from a cold snowy January in London to what amounts to an English summer. You won’t want to miss catching up with Lady Jane, Dr McConnell, his two partners Polly Buchanan and Lord Dallington, his older brother Sir Edmund, Charles former butler, now an MP and so many more. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and compelling read, especially in light of recent political events. The world receded. It is a well written, thoroughly engrossing, historical novel with fascinating Victorian details: Pasteur, microbes, fish and chips, Churchill, Parliament, the Royal Society, plagiarism, farthings, and Lennox musings on friendship, love, egotism and current events. Finch has an eye for evocative detail e.g. it’s not just a pencil, but a charcoal pencil and the letter is sealed with a signet ring.

Read on:

Chris Nickson, Will Thomas, Bruce Holsinger. CS Challinor, David Liss

Quotes:

London was silent with snow, soft flakes of it dropping evenly into the white streets, nobody outside who had somewhere inside to be. It was the third day of the year. Already the light was fading, though it was scarcely past two o’clock in the afternoon,

But not enough business, alas, to keep him occupied for more than a few hours the previous afternoon, so that on this lonely endless Sunday he had already reorganized the long rows of books that lined the walls, had gone through several pots of tea—and above all had waited, waited, waited, all the infinite day through for a certain visitor to come.

Lenox was forty-seven now—a tall and thin man, with a close brown beard and a thoughtful, kindly, but undeceived face—and had been a detective since roughly the age of twenty-two, first as a private investigator, now as a professional in the agency he had founded with two close friends. (For several years between these stages of his career, he had been in Parliament, the ancient family game, but that was all in the past now.)

Kirk raised his eyebrows very slightly, which was the equivalent in him of asking outright whether Lenox had gone insane, and perhaps needed to check into a sanatorium known for its particular specialty in madness, and should he call a doctor.

“Cabs, you know, is what we started calling them at the advent of the modern period, oh, a thousand years ago.”

Leigh had been famous within the houses for the most part as a singularly awful student.

Rackham up—the driver being an unrepentant dipsomaniac, who had concealed within his cloak and breeches at all times, like a pirate with never fewer than thirteen knives stowed away upon his person, various bottles of alcohol.

Their third and final partner, Lord John Dallington, was a wry, handsome young fellow of thirty, youngest son of a duke and duchess, who in his earlier years of adulthood had earned a terrible reputation as a rake—but had mostly reformed of drinking and late nights now, and possessed a tremendous innate gift for detection, even if he was prone, still, to the occasional lost night.

There were several detectives, all formerly of the Yard, who worked for the agency. The bulk of their business was commercial: acting more swiftly and with greater energy than the police could on behalf of various businesses when they had internal troubles…

“You would hate my work, if you are so easily dispirited by the depths of behavior to which our species can descend.

“I can’t believe we have found someone Debrett’s knows and you do not!” said Dallington. “A Member of the House of Lords. Dear, dear. What will Lady Jane say?”

He was more than a talisman, but his good cheer, his idle words, his neat appearance, Lenox realized, were essential to the happy workings of the agency.

The single stupidest person Lenox had ever met was Georgie Cholmondley, now Lord April, who had been at Harrow at the same time that he and Leigh had.

“We could have a look around Truro.” “Yes, that should be a thrilling eight minutes.”

Upon the fourth finger of her left hand was a ring, set with a diamond. In Lenox’s day the women’s engagement rings had been, without exception, of pearl and turquoise, but according to Dallington this was the new vogue, the diamond.

When Napoleon had ordered the execution of the Duc d’Enghien, it was said, he had done worse than commit a crime—he had committed a blunder.

it rained steadily and torrentially, the light washed out of the sky, the people washed out of the streets.

Seated between them, curling her fingers through her doll’s hair, was Sophia, who had stood near Polly with a basket of flowers, eaten too much soup, had a tantrum, and fallen asleep in her chair. Not one of her finest performances.

“No, it’s not magic, the future—it’s science.”
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library